Main theme films are revolutionary history-themed significant films fully reflect the mainstream ideology, realism-themed films compatible with the life of common audiences, as well as films spreading mainstream values and singing praise for humanity and human life. They are also known as “Tribute Films”. The characteristics of main theme films include endorsing mainstream ideology, advocating state policies, leading the embodiment of cultural values, showing positive and upbeat spiritual performance, and presenting history and reality in health film creation.
Since 1959, “Tribute Films” have become a type of film creation with Chinese characteristics. After the 1990s, “Tribute Films” were expanded to the concept of “Main Theme”, which mainly includes patriotism, heroism, rationalism and collectivism. In 1987, Mt. Teng Jinxian, Chief of Film Bureau under the Ministry of Radio, Film and Television, officially proposed the development direction of main theme films to film creative teams. The film FOUNDING CEREMONY, which was screened in 1989, became a benchmark of main theme films.
Main theme films have a significant status in the development history of Chinese films. In terms of the periods depicted in films, there are the Red Army period, the Anti-Japanese War period, the Liberation War period and the War Against Other Countries period. The following are some films depicting these periods respectively.
Films depicting the Red Army period include ON THE LONG MARCH and SPARKING RED STAR.
ON THE LONG MARCH, produced by the August First Film Studio and Beijing Film Studio, tells about the stories of 25,000-li Long March of the First Front Army of the Red Army of Chinese workers and peasants. The film was directed by Hua Chun and Cheng Yin, starred by Huang Kai and Lan Ma, and screened in 1959. The film truthfully displayed the 25,000-li Long March of the Red Army; their heroic climbing over snow-capped mountains and tiding over mashes shocked the whole world. In order to make a good film out of this them, the film creation staff personally traced back the Long March routes for more than 4,000 kilometers, experiencing the harsh weather and natural environment along the way. In this way, the film presents a real picture of the Red Army’s fearlessness, bravery, self-sacrifice and greatness.
SPARKING RED STAR is a film adapted from Li Xintian’s namesake novel. The little hero Pan Dongzi is a classic image in Chinese children films, and has been loved by audiences of all age groups since the date of creation. Even today, people still has a deep memory of this artistic image.
Representative films depicting the Anti-Japanese War period include GUERILLA OF THE PLAIN and RAILWAY GUERRILLA.
GUERILLA OF THE PLAIN is a war-themed film directed by Sun Li and Wu Zhaodi, starred by Guo Zhenqing and Fang Hua. The film adopts the thriller model to create a intense viewing experience; its characterization is also successful. In the film, the image of the protagonist Li Xiangyang has the characteristics of rebellious heroes in Chinese classical literature and has the shadow of the legendary heroes such as Robin Hood in foreign films. Especially the antagonist of Japanese squadron leader Matsui’s image had a breakthrough significance at that time.
RAILWAY GUERRILLA was produced by Shanghai Film Studio in 1956, directed by Zhao Ming, starred by Cao Huiqu and Qin Yi. RAILWAY GUERRILLA is a classic black-and-white film, its pleasant title song Plunking My Favorite Native Lute has already been imprinted in the minds of one generation’s people.
Films depicting the Liberation War period include THE BREAKTHROUGH, THE BIG WAR and THE MARCH series.
Revolutionary history-themed films such as THE BREAKTHROUGH, THE BIG WAR and THE MARCH series produced by the August First Film Studio in the end of the 20th century are the most spectacular war-themed films in the Chinese film history. They are comparable to similar international films such as the Liberation and Battle for Moscow of the former Soviet Union and THE FIGHT FOR MOSCOW and THE LONGEST DAY of the United States. Among them, THE BREAKTHROUGH series consists of FIGHTING HARD IN SHANDONG and BOLDLY DRIVING INTO DABIE MOUNTAINS, telling about the hard days of Liu Bocheng and Deng Xiaoping’s armies when they established operation bases the Dabie Mountains. THE BIG WAR is a trilogy consists of LIAO SHEN CAMPAIGN, HUAI HAI CAMPAIGN and PING JIN CAMPAIGN. These epic films magnificently recreated the three decisive campaigns of China’s Liberation War. THE MARCH series consists of THE LIBERATION OF NORTHWEST CHINA, FIGHT BACK TO SOUTHWEST, WAR OF ANNIHILATION IN THE SOUTH, SOUTH LINE CHASE AND FIGHT FOR NANJING, SHANGHAI AND HANGZHOU, showing the whole picture of the Liberation War.
The representative film of the War Against Other Countries period is HEROIC SONS AND DAUGHTERS.
HEROIC SONS AND DAUGHTERS, adapted from Ba Jin’s novel LEAGUE MEMBER, is a war-themed film produced by the Changchun Film Studio in 1964. It was directed by Wu Zhaodi, starred by Liu Shilong, Liu Shangxian and Tian Fang. HEROIC SONS AND DAUGHTERS tells a story in the Korean War period: after volunteer soldier Wang Cheng was killed in action, his sister Wang Fang, with the help of political commissar Wang Wenqing, kept fighting and eventually reunited with her foster father Wang Fubiao and her birth father Wang Wenqing on the Korean battlefield.
The above-mentioned classic films represent a brilliant era of China’s main theme films. Today, the film market is undergoing world-shaking changes, main theme films naturally take a new look in such great changes. The film market is entering into a new era of main theme films, and the commercialization of main theme films is becoming more and more mature and comprehensive. The commercialization of main theme films resulted from the new trend of the film market; it also transcends the dilemma of main theme films itself: good topic but weak market performance. THE FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC , the first film of “Founding Trilogy” gathered an unprecedented all-star lineup, and garnered 120 million yuan revenue in the first half of premiere day, setting a new record of the premiere day box office, as well as a new record of the first week box office of Chinese films.
Main Theme Films Usher in A New Era,
New Ideas and New Types Dominate the New World
In the transition from old era to new era, main theme films also face many difficulties.
Against the backdrop of rapid developing market economy and continuous improvements in people’s economic living standards, the options of spiritual entertainment are becoming more and more diversified, and the audiences can see more types of films. In this era, the pattern of “Main Theme” films dominating the industry has long been broken.
Moreover, the film-viewing audiences are getting younger. Young people now concur less with the older generation’s thinking and ideas. Therefore, it is difficult for them to echo the themes, contents and thinking modes of “Main Theme” films.
At the same time, due to strong ritualization, main theme films often give the impression of stereotype. Because of its “Main Theme” status, more and more audiences connect them with China’s modern war-themed films; and their low degree of commercialization limits the number of audience groups. And it is more important for main theme films to complete the political task than gaining market recognition. So they usually do not have the pressure for good box office and attach less importance to the market and the audience than commercial films do. Moreover, the negligence of main theme films for Internet circulation bog them even deeper into the dilemma.
However, main theme films have improved many shortcomings in the new reform drive. Their creators keep up with the pace of the market from the beginning, and combine the political tasks of films with entertainment properties to create new-type main theme films.
The representatives of new-type films in the new era include ASSEMBLY, WOLF WARRIORS series, OPERATION MEKONG and “Founding Trilogy”.
As early as in 2007, Feng Xiaogang spent a fortune to produce a history- and war-themed film ASSEMBLY. Adapted from Yang Jinyuan’s novel LAWSUIT, the film depicts the scenes of second Chinese Civil War and the Korean War, and is starred by Zhang Hanyu, Deng Chao, Liao Fan and Hu Jun. With an average of 40% screening rate in the premiere week, the film achieved a box office of 65 million yuan. In a little more than one month, it occupied the second place with a box office of nearly 260 million yuan in the history of Chinese mainland box office (the then box office champion was CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER).
The OPERATION MEKONG screened last year is undoubtedly another classic case of new-type main theme films. The film, adapted from “The Incident of Chinese Merchant Ship Crews Being Murdered at Golden Triangle on October 5th” (Mekong Tragedy), tells a story of one action team attempting to unveil the conspiracy of murdering Chinese merchant crew members and catching the people behind drug trafficking. It was directed by Lin Chaoxian, starred by Zhang Hanyu, Peng Yuyan, Feng Wenjuan and Wu Xudong. The film was premiered on September 30, 2016, on the eve of the National Day holidays. Its box office exceeded 40.5 million yuan on the first day, 59.6 million yuan on October 1, and 65 million yuan on October 2, becoming the box office dark horse during last year’s National Day holidays. So far, its accumulative box office has exceeded 1.18 billion yuan. During the screening period, the screening rate of OPERATION MEKONG, changed dramatically, increasing everyday from 20% on the first day to an average of 50% after the first week, and reaching 55.3% at the peak. This means that the market has begun to support new-type main theme films, and that new-era main theme films can also become a major force in the film market.
The “Founding Trilogy” consists of THE FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC, THE FOUNDING OF A PARTY and THE FOUNDING OF AN ARMY, which were released in 2009, 2011 and 2017 respectively. THE FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC is a tribute film to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the film gathered more than 100 stars in the Chinese film for free, this act set up a record in the past. From the begin of “founding of the nation”, the relationship between stars and the theme become increasingly close, the two grow together, open up a new road of the film production of main theme films. The box office of THE FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC in the first half of premiere day was 14.77 million yuan, setting a new record of premiere-day box office. It was screened for four and a half days in the first week; its box office totaled 124.36 million yuan, also setting a new first-week box office record of Chinese films.
To many people the WOLF WARRIORS is one of the most impressive films in 2015. The first 3D action and war film in China, WOLF WARRIORS took seven years to produce and was screened in 2015. The WOLF WARRIORS vividly presents a Sino-foreign border war, putting the “Oriental Wolves” special forces and high-energy soldiers on the screen for the first time, and telling a legendary story of how a nobody grows up to be a lone hero who save the country and the nation. The film was directed and starred by Wu Jing, co-starred by Yu Nan, Ni Dahong, Scott Adkins and Zhou Xiao’ou. The film achieved a box office of 39 million yuan on the premiere day; its box office totaled 208 million yuan in the first week, and accumulated to 540 million yuan up to now. In addition to impressive box office, WOLF WARRIORS also won the Huabiao Award, Huading Award and Hundred Flowers Award. Successful in terms of both reputation and revenue, it is another classic representative of main theme films.
One year later, director Wu Jing returned to the cinema line with the sequel WOLF WARRIORS II, the stunning performance of which gained the film a reputation not only in the Chinese film circles but also around the globe. WOLF WARRIORS II was officially released at 08:01 on July 27, 2017: Within four hours after debut, its box office totaled over one hundred million yuan. The number exceeded over 300 million yuan in 25 hours, over 500 million yuan in 46 hours, and over 1.2 billion yuan in five days. During the weekends of the first week, WOLF WARRIORS II became the champion film in global box office with a total revenue of 127 million U.S. dollars. On July 30 only, it raked in 359.7 million yuan, breaking the single-day box office record of Chinese films. Not only that, in the small hours of August 11, the box office (including service charges) of WOLF WARRIORS II exceeded 40 billion yuan, breaking the box office record of 3.392 billion yuan set by 3D comedy film THE MERMAID, which was directed by Stephen Chow in 2016, becoming the box office champion of Chinese films. It can be said that the performance of WOLF WARRIORS II is another quantum leap of main theme films in the new era, and that the golden age of main theme films is on the horizon.